In Ivory Coast, an association helps cocoa farmers and owners protect their land

In Ivory Coast, an association helps cocoa farmers and owners protect their land

At the heart of the Soubré “cocoa loop”, an association, supported by CCFD-Terre solidaire, helps to establish the land tenure of the farms. A sensitive mission in this country populated by many migrants, the world’s leading producer of “brown gold”.

“We are worried, there are murmurs during discussions between young people,” confides Issiaka Zoungrana, the head of the foreign communities in the village of Logboayo. The heirs of the owners say that they will take back the land if the cocoa trees are sick and if the income continues to decline…” laments the Burkinabé chef. This year, in fact, the national cocoa harvest fell by a third. In front of his dried mud hut, on the red laterite floor, his wife pulps the cocoa beans while others dry a little further away on a canvas.

A few moments earlier, on the other side of the asphalt road, in the indigenous neighborhood, populated by Bétés, the ethnic group of this region, Désiré Youan Bi, local manager of an NGO, the Association for Support of Self-Promotion urban health (Asapsu), tried to raise awareness among all village notables, foreigners and natives, of the need to put in writing what was oral custom: property titles and rental – or exploitation – contracts, in order to to avoid any future conflicts.

It is painstaking, slow and complex work that this NGO, supported by CCFD-Terre solidaire, is carrying out in the department of Soubré (300,000 inhabitants), within this “cocoa loop” hit by a disease that attacks almost a third of the plants: the swollen shoot or “cocoa AIDS”.

In the 23 villages surrounding Soubré, 90% of farmers are internal migrants (from non-local ethnic groups, such as the Baoulés, the Malinkés, etc.) or foreigners (Burkinabes, Malians), encouraged, for fifty years, by the Ivorian State to settle in the region. Until then, they fell under customary, oral law, which prevailed. This linked a landowner – guardian, native – and an operator – farmer, migrant -, the latter giving a share of the harvest to his guardian.

If the civil war, in 2003, then 2010 and 2011, saw communities clash, peace has returned. But the fire is smoldering: as the plantations age, suffer from the abuse of phytosanitary products and drought, the temptation is great for the new generations of owners to ignore the old ones and put their plots up for sale. However, such decisions would risk driving away, without compensation, migrants to whom Ivorian law prohibits the right to property.

The traceability requirement

On the other side of the road, in the indigenous neighborhood, the young Bété owners do not all seem to want to deny the word of their elders. “I cultivate 2 ha of cocoa myself, without using phytosanitary products,” explains Sepi Koré, an evangelical Christian, who beams at having sold 85 kg of beans the day before, thanks to his fields being free from any disease. “The migrants have gained their plantation, we are not going to take it back, where will they go? » This young father of two children dreams of being a truck driver, while Franck, Catholic youth leader in the indigenous village, wants to start a chicken farm. Will these heirs resist if companies, with an agricultural, mining or real estate vocation, or the State itself, wanted to buy land? Them, maybe. But those who return from the cities?

Asapsu works to ensure that oral agreements are transcribed and recognize the work of everyone. An issue accentuated by a recent change: since last December, the European Union has refused any import resulting from deforestation and therefore requires knowledge of the traceability of agricultural products. Faced with this, the Ivorian government requested a land census, creating a new model where written law tends to prevail.

In the village of Gnakoragui, the contracts were signed in 2016 – after three years of negotiations – and the parties are reassured. The NGO now ensures monitoring. Using a map, Désiré Youan Bi takes the opportunity to raise awareness of the dangers of rampant urbanization. “Can you place the plantations – in green – and the boxes – in orange – on the map? he asks the gathered residents. And what do you see? » “There is less green and more orange,” respond farmers and owners. “Orange is not good. the plantations are no longer protected from the sun…”, recognizes the assembly. “And what will we eat when the last crop has disappeared? » asks Désiré.

Women’s heritage

In Obrouyao, served by a 4×4 bush track, Asapsu helps an association of 800 women to take control of their destiny, via cocoa plantations, subsistence farming (rice, okra, etc.) in the lowlands ( wetlands), and their sale at the market. Because the transition from oral law to written law also allowed another step forward: the recognition of new rights for women. Some owners thus evolved and ended up accepting that their daughters and nieces inherit the land, which custom prohibited.

“We operate as a tontine,” explains Victorine Ayéchine, the president of the Association of Women Fighters of Obrouyao. We pool small amounts to help one or the other. » “We want Côte d’Ivoire to remain the leading cocoa producer in the world,” assures Clément, who cultivates 2.5 ha organically. But we need to change practices. » Those who have eaten away at the forest… to the point of making it disappear as in Kourabahi, not far from Obrouyao and in 80% of Ivorian classified forests, in favor of cocoa plantations, but also rubber trees and oil palms.

Under the leadership of global donors, the authorities are supporting reforestation by involving the population. “We ask farmers in classified forests to plant, every ten to twenty meters, large native trees such as mahogany or fraké, which also protect the cocoa trees from the heat,” explains Hypoté F. Hewé, head of the management unit of the Forest Development Corporation.

On the eve of the 2025 presidential election, ambitions are already sharpening and old nationalist demons are resurfacing. In this country made up of 53 ethnic groups and 26% foreigners, the peace work of goodwill NGOs remains more necessary than ever.

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